edited excerpts from
"A Home Buyer's Guide To Reality"

by Lawrence M. Kostaneski, PE
Copyright 1998 Centerline Press

The Boy Scout motto is particularly appropriate for the home buyer. Another old saying, learned by Boy Scouts as well as the rest of us, is that an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure; and prevention is the key to avoiding unpleasant or expensive mistakes. In the home buying business, prevention takes the form of knowledge, and is only useful if applied BEFORE buying a house.

This article will use a few true stories to demonstrate what happens to those who do not take the time to increase their knowledge before they buy a house.

A group of developers approached the County to build a subdivision immediately adjacent to the City limits. The developers asked the County to allow the roads, water system and storm drainage system to be built to standards that were less than required by the adjacent City. The County agreed, with the understanding that the homeowners would be responsible for these features through a Homeowners Association.

Four years passed before the City annexed this subdivision. At about the same time the Association discovered the tremendous cost of maintaining roads and water systems. They also decided that they would like some sidewalks.

Representatives from the Association came to my office and explained their request. All they wanted was for the City to take over the infrastructure (roads, water, etc.). After all, they reasoned, their property taxes increased 15% because they now had to pay the City portion of the tax levy. Imagine their surprise when I told them that as soon as they brought the infrastructure up to City standards, we would take it over. These were intelligent people, so it didn't take them long to figure out that the cost to upgrade was higher than the maintenance cost - which they could barely afford. After many harsh words spoken at public meetings, the Association accepted their fate. Very sad.

The City Council explained that while they were in fact paying 15% more in taxes, so was everyone else who paid to have their infrastructure built to City standards. It was a fairness issue.

Another group of citizens came to see me about plans for a modest shopping center within a block of their neighborhood. They were quite angry, some even implying that somehow I would benefit financially from the situation. Struggling to control my temper, I carefully explained that this property had been zoned for commercial development three years before the residential subdivision was built. They could clearly see that the land was vacant when they bought their home, and had they taken the time to ask, they would have discovered the zoning category of this vacant land.

Yet another group of citizens came to complain about the odor coming from the City landfill about 2 miles south of their neighborhood. This was primarily a summer phenomenon, brought on by a seasonal shift in the prevailing winds combined with the natural effect of heat on refuse.

I managed to politely remind them that the landfill had been at this location for 40 years, long before the neighborhood was built. This did little to address their concerns. They demanded to know why I would let someone build at this location. The answer was simple: the developers owned the land, followed all the rules, paid all the fees, had their plans reviewed at two public hearings and obtained approval from the Planning Commission and City Council. There was an attempt to close the Landfill. Elected officials courteously listened to the people, then tabled the request.

These are just a few of the issues that were included in the lists presented in the last article. These are not make believe. Each of these events really happened, and judging from comments from around the country, they happen everywhere !

It got so frustrating that friends grew weary of my complaining. They all suggested that if it troubled me so much, why didn't I write a book: which is exactly what happened.

Anticipating the criticisms, the issue is not about finding the perfect house - which is difficult - but recognizing the negatives and deciding whether you can live with them. A concrete patio with a crack in it is easy to fix; closing down a Landfill is almost impossible. Be Prepared Before You Buy.

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Mr. Kostaneski is a registered Professional Engineer with over 20 years experience in the design and construction industry, 10 of those as a government regulatory official responsible for resolving residential development problems. He is owner of Centerline, an engineering consulting firm. Comments are edited excerpts from his book, "A Home Buyer's Guide To Reality".

©1996, 1997, 1998 Centerline Press & David Moninger. All Rights Reserved